Syrian Democratic Forces are poised to enter Manbij. Photo: Delil Souleiman/AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region—At least 28 fighters of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have been killed in an Islamic State counter attack in the Manbij area on Monday reported the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
ISIS militants won back control of three villages south of Manbij in a surprise attack on the SDF, a coalition of forces battling the terrorist group in northern Syria and dominated by the Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG).
The SDF launched a campaign, under the guise of the Manbij Military Council, three weeks ago to take back the city of Manbij and surrounding countryside thereby cutting ISIS off from the Turkish border.
An SDF spokesman told Reuters that they were able to repulse the attack and remain in control of the area. “The situation is under control,” said Sharfan Darwish, spokesperson for the Manbij Military Council. “They have many bodies on the ground.”
“We are at the four gates to the city,” he continued. “The whole city is booby-trapped. After 20 days of the campaign, we have yet to storm the city.”
On Saturday, SDF forces, backed by US-led coalition airstrikes, fought their way into the city on the western side, coming within 2 kilometres of the city centre before pulling back.
They are proceeding with caution in order to protect civilians. About 2,000 have been able to flee the city but it is estimated that many more remain trapped in Manbij.
“Concerning the trapped, we are trying to deal with the matter. Before we target any place, we try to make sure there are no civilians in there, and this is one of the foundations of our operations,” Darwish said.
There are also fears that ISIS is using the residents of Manbij as human shields. “They [ISIS] have taken the armed civilians and make the walk 500 metres ahead of them,” said one villager in an audio recording obtained by Rudaw. “ISIS told them go ahead, if the enemy doesn’t kill you, we will kill you.”
Since the start of the offensive, SDF forces have retaken about 90 villages and liberated more than 1,000 square kilometres of territory known as the Manbij pocket.